The Appellant Defendant, Clive Hughes, (‘D’) was a businessman. He owned and ran two companies which sought planning permission for the construction of two biomass power stations in South Wales. The Respondent Claimant, Robin Cammish, (‘C’) was also a businessman. He owned and ran the QP Group, a group of companies providing management consultancy services. He was also chairman and director of a company called Coedbach Action Team Ltd which opposed the grant of planning permission for the two power stations, doing so in part by attending planning inquiries.
In April 2010 a 12 page bundle of documents was sent anonymously to a number of individuals, referring to C’s part in the action group and the fact that public records indicated that between him and his partner he had dissolved at least 20 companies, going on to say “not able to sell anyone of them and coming to Swansea to tell you how to do it”. A handwritten message said that C’s role in dissolving 15 companies “= not able to run them”. In a witness statement C explained that he had not incorporated the companies that had been dissolved in order to ‘run’ them, stating that they had been set up to protect IP rights relating to his main business. C said that following the dissemination of the bundle he arranged a number of meetings with persons who had received the bundle to assure them that no impropriety was involved.
In pre-action correspondence C claimed, partly on the basis of handwriting evidence, that D was the author of the bundle. D denied this. Proceedings ensued. D identified himself in his Defence as the bundle’s author. D denied the defamatory meaning attributed to the words by C (‘that he was a seriously incompetent business person’ and, applying Thornton v Telegraph Group Ltd  1 WLR 1985, denied that they were defamatory of him at all. Alternatively D asserted that if and insofar as the words were defamatory of C they were honest comment on a matter of public interest. Furthermore D pleaded, in reliance on Jameel v Dow Jones  QB 946, that the proceedings were not ‘worth the candle’ and ought to be brought to a conclusion summarily. D issued an application seeking a ruling on whether the words were or were not defamatory of C and, in the event that they were found to be defamatory of him, for judgment to be entered summarily for D nonetheless on the ground that the claim was an abuse of process. Meanwhile C issued an application for an order striking out the defence of honest comment.
Both applications came before HH Judge Chambers QC (sitting as a Judge of the High Court) in the Cardiff District Registry. Since trial was to be by judge alone, the parties were content for the Judge to rule as a preliminary issue on what the words actually meant. The Judge ruled that the natural and ordinary meaning of the words complained of was “because he was unable to run them the Claimant has had to dissolve 15 companies which he wanted to sell. This shows that he is a seriously
incompetent businessman who is far from being the man to come to Swansea to tell the protesters how to run their protest”:  EWHC 976 (QB). The Judge ruled that in this meaning the words were defamatory of C, including that they crossed the ‘threshold of seriousness’, and declined to stop the proceedings as an abuse of process, principally on the ground that D had lied in the pre-action correspondence about his authorship of the words complained of and C was entitled to pursue the proceedings to achieve vindication in that regard. With the permission of the Rt Hon Sir David Keene, D appealed.